Tag: Israel (page 2 of 3)

The World’s Most Dangerous Crisis

[cross-posted at Current Intelligence]


Earlier this week, President Obama announced the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq and pledged his commitment to begin drawing down American forces in Afghanistan beginning next summer. A key theme in his address to the nation was the need for the United States to redirect resources from nearly a decade of two wars and invest in the economy at home. Yet, although the President is trying to move away from an era of “perpetual war,” Washington is already abuzz about the next impending military action the region: an Israeli strike on Iran, which would likely disrupt US objectives and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and create enormous political, strategic, military, and economic costs to the United States around the globe.

Jeffrey Goldberg triggered the most recent discussion with his article “Israel is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, Why – and What it Means” in the current issue of The Atlantic. Based on dozens of interviews over the past few years, Goldberg’s assessment is that most Israeli leaders (and citizens) now view a nuclear Iran as an existential threat and, as a result, there is “better than a 50 percent chance Israel will launch a strike on Iran by next July.”

I spent a couple of weeks in Israel in June also talking to senior Israeli political and military officials and I came away with a similar impression. The Israelis will not tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons and they will take military action to slow it if no one else does.

To be sure, there is a possibility that the Israeli government is sounding particularly hawkish as a signaling ploy to generate a stronger international response to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But I concur with Goldberg’s assessment that the current Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the existence of the state of Israel and the entire Zionist movement is threatened by a nuclear Iran. They see the threat as both direct – a nuclear Iran will act more aggressively by unleashing Hezbollah and Hamas to launch direct attacks on Israeli cities – and indirect – as the next generation of educated Israelis will leave the country for the relative safety and comfort of the United States or Europe. As a result, both the security and demography of Israel will be irreparably changed.

Regardless of whether or not this is the true nature of the threat, and whether or not a nuclear Iran could be contained, the dominant view in the upper echelons of the Israeli government is that Iran with a nuclear weapon cannot (and will not) be tolerated.

I’ve spent the past twenty years studying decisionmaking and war. Decisions for war are often a confluence of heightened assessments of threat coupled with various psychological or ideological biases that discount the costs of war. In this sense, decisions for war are more likely when leaders perceive an enemy as a paper tiger – ferocious and dangerous if left unchecked, but easily dismantled by swift and concentrated military action. In these circumstances, war becomes more likely when it is seen as both a necessary and relatively low cost instrument.

What is striking about the debate in Israel today is that no one seems to be discounting the costs to Israel if it does strike Iran. The Israelis that I met with all agreed that Israel would be isolated in the world if it launched a preventive attack. It would trigger large-scale retaliations by enraged Iranians and radicalized Muslim populations against Jews and Jewish interests around the world. The Israelis also expect that an attack would imperil the Palestinian Authority’s statebuilding efforts on the West Bank and trigger counter attacks against Israel from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and from Hamas in Gaza. Israeli intelligence officers told my group that it believes Hezbollah and Hamas have acquired somewhere between 40,000 and 45,000 rockets from Iran in the past several years. These weapons are more sophisticated and longer range than Qasam rockets used by Hamas in Gaza and can now strike almost every city and town in Israel. This would compel a full-scale land campaign by the Israeli Defense Forces in both Gaza and Lebanon.

And, finally, the Israelis are conscious that a strike would trigger a reaction against American military personnel and interests throughout the Muslim world. This would profoundly affect all American efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. More broadly, it could seriously destabilize the entire Persian Gulf and broader Middle East, and be disastrous to the global economy.

Even with this analysis in hand, many in the Israeli leadership appear to believe that striking Iran would be the best option if nothing else is done to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The challenge for the Obama administration in the coming months is to simultaneously deter Iran from moving forward on its nuclear weapons program while persuading the Israelis not to take matters into their own hands. This will not be easy. The Iranian regime has shown little sign of altering its course. Constraining the Israelis – difficult under any circumstances – will be considerably more difficult after the mid-term elections in November if the hawkish, pro-Israeli Republicans do as well as expected.

Obama entered office as the most boxed-in President since Harry Truman – facing two wars and a global financial crisis. But it is this situation that may be the biggest challenge for his Presidency, and the most dangerous. If Obama fails and the Israelis strike, the regional and global reaction to both Israel and the United States will be severe. We almost certainly will be looking at a fundamentally altered environment, in security and economic terms, for the next generation.

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I wonder if he’s got facebook?


A former Israeli soldier posted pictures on facebook of herself with Palestinian prisoners who were tied up and blindfolded. In a photo album called “The Army …The Most Beautiful Time of My Life,” Eden Abergil posted these pictures and responded to friends’ comments.

One is particularly striking: a facebook friend of Abergil’s commented that she looked sexy in the pictures. Abergil responded:

Yeah I know lol honey. What a day it was. Look how he completes my picture. I wonder if he’s got Facebook!

I wonder if he’s got a facebook. I wonder if he’s got a facebook. Really?

Certainly, problems with the mistreatment of prisoners aren’t new. And maybe even the level of detachment from that treatment that is required to consider tying up prisoners sexy, take pictures of yourself doing it, post them on facebook, and wonder if the prisoners you tied up would like to be tagged on facebook can be found in earlier wars and conflicts in different forms. But it feels so cavalier, so base, so debasing reading it in the New York Times that it just seems like something different, something worse, something we should think is an emergency.

I guess, though, in the end, its not about whether this is worse than whatever came before it but instead about what can be done to communicate a message of unacceptability. That seems like a more complicated question, and one that I’ll be doing a lot of thinking about at a couple of conferences on Just War Theory over the next couple of weeks. More on these issues soon.

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The ticking clock(s) on Iran…


Apparently, containment of Iran is no longer an option and the Obama administration is showing signs of toughening its stance. In doing so, the administration appears to be shifting the anticipated costs and benefits (and the likelihood) of military strikes on Iran.

One of Israel’s leading commentators, Ehud Yaari, had this piece in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post:

I have solid information indicating that the top echelons of the administration – National Security Council, Pentagon, State Department – have reached the conclusion that the US cannot adopt the option of containing a nuclear Iran.

The option of accepting a nuclear Iran, unwillingly of course, and then trying to contain it, was advocated by many important players on the American foreign policy scene. This option is now apparently off the table.

There is a change of policy not only in terms of sanctions, both at the UN Security Council and those unilateral sanctions now imposed by both the US, EU and others, but also an understanding by the administration that in no way can Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

How do we know this? Among other things, because this is what the Americans have been telling Arab leaders over recent weeks.

And why have they changed their minds? Because of what the leaders of the Gulf states, including the king of Saudi Arabia, have been saying to Obama for some time now: “We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.”

So, what to make of this?

During my recent trip to Israel, the group I was with met with Yaari. He is a smart voice in Israel and he has incredible access throughout the Middle East, so I trust he is on to something. He expressed concern that there are two clocks on Iran. The first is the clock on how long it will take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. The second, and more worrisome, clock is the time it will take Iran to fully “bury” (hide and harden) its nuclear research and production facilities. He argued that it is this second clock that is the real trigger for Israeli military action – and it is moving more quickly than the first. His general sense is that it might be a year away, but that it is almost certainly coming and the Israelis will not accept it – a line we heard from multiple officials.

There has been a lot of conversation on what happens if, and when, Tehran does develop a nuclear weapon. But, a more significant danger is the possibility that Tehran may (mis)calculate that it can go to the brink of developing a weapon and stop short. This is particularly dangerous, because in doing so, it would almost certainly expire the second clock and trigger an Israeli strike.

This concern no doubt factors into the Obama administration’s current thinking. It obviously wants a reversal from Iran. But, it also does not want an Israeli strike and is looking for ways to constrain an Israeli attack which increasingly appears like it is in the works. But the Israelis are very distrustful of this administration and Obama doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage right now (a point Drezner also was able to identify on his second day in the country). The Obama administration also knows that Netanyahu has unequivocal support from several US constituencies – the Tea Partiers just introduced House Res. 1553 which may be a non-starter here, but is a strong signal to those in Jerusalem.

Hence, Obama’s shift appears to be an effort, in part, to demonstrate the administration’s toughness to the Israelis (and to constrain them) as much as to offer reassurances to the Gulf states. So right now, the current policy is premised on the hope that the new UN, US, and EU sanctions coupled with stepping up a stronger posture by the United States might compel Tehran to change it’s course on both the first and second clocks.

However, for those keeping score at home, Obama’s new tack also changes a lot of thinking on the cost-benefit ratio of U.S. military action.

We’ve all heard that a military strike would be very difficult and costly. It would almost certainly trigger Iranian nationalism (74 million strong) and lead to a significant escalation of terrorism and violence. We would almost certainly see an Iranian response against Israel coming from Hamas and Hezbollah which have spent the last couple of years stockpiling rocket and missile upgrades. And, the Iranians could raise all kinds of hell in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

But, with the Obama administration now telling folks that it will not accept a nuclear Iran — the perceived costs of inaction have just increased. The thinking that I’ve been hearing, both in Israel and more recently from friends close to the administration, is that if Iran went nuclear without a U.S. military response, we would see several things happen: 1) Iran would be emboldened to play an even greater destabilizing role throughout the region; 2) the US influence/relationships with the gulf states would collapse and trigger a wide range of regional reactions which would lead to a sharp spike in terrorism, the disruption of global oil production and distribution, and a collapse of an already vulnerable global economy (notice the second and third order effects built into the first assumption); 3) it would trigger a wave of destabilizing proliferation throughout the Middle East — both the Saudis and Egyptians have warned that they would move quickly to develop their own capabilities; 4) radicals would see this as a victory for Islamic fundamentalism and would launch assaults on all moderate Islamic and Arab parties; and 5) the Palestinians, currently looking at the U.S.-Iran situation for cues, would radicalize if Iran wins and launch more aggressive attacks against Israel. In short, the situation would lead to a global economic crisis, massive violence, and a radicalization of politics around the globe.

And, while I challenged my interlocutors on each point with both logical and empirical arguments, I don’t think I had much effect. It reminds me of the way in which the uncontested, casual assumptions emerged in pre-war Iraq discourse and fueled the groupthink.

Furthermore, the probability of war almost certainly increases when we couple this thinking with new “estimates” that the costs of war might be lower:

Other intelligence sources say that the U.S. Army’s Central Command, which is in charge of organizing military operations in the Middle East, has made some real progress in planning targeted air strikes — aided, in large part, by the vastly improved human-intelligence operations in the region. “There really wasn’t a military option a year ago,” an Israeli military source told me. “But they’ve gotten serious about the planning, and the option is real now.”

The general sense I have is that we have no more than a year before something will have to give. The multiple moving parts to this story are clearly dangerous and all of the various forms of brinksmanship that we’ll see in the coming months are ripe for miscalculation.

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The IDF’s blog campaign

During my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to talk to a young IDF officer who was assigned as a spokeswoman/public relations specialist for one of the IDF’s commands. I told her about Stephanie’s recent post on the Gaza flotilla raid and how the Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly tweeted a response to Stephanie about the post. She told me that there is a new effort by both the Foreign Ministry and the IDF to respond rapidly to information that pops up on the blogosphere. Within each IDF command, there is a separate section within the public information branches that monitors blogs and facebook sites to “correct” distorted information. She said most of these sections are staffed by young officers in their early twenties who have grown up with blogging and Facebook.

Of course, the extensive use of Facebook by young officers can also cause problems for the IDF.

More later…

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It’s radical, man.

Through the very good King’s of War blog I was directed to a post on Jihadica on the recent emergence of an apparent Al-Qaida affiliated English-language publication called “Inspire”. While the author suggests that this has thrown Western media into a panic, there was very little to actually be worried about (other than the fact that it might contain a computer virus).

The bottom line is that Inspire is a drop in an ocean of jihadi propaganda. The recent media coverage suggests that otherwise educated observers don’t seem to realise 1) how large and 2) how old that ocean is. I find this both disappointing and disconcerting. For a decade, militants have been pumping out sophisticated propaganda and genuinely dangerous training manuals to a vast Arabic speaking audience. In comes a sloppy magazine in English, and suddenly people speak of a new al-Qaida media offensive. This ignorance and linguistic myopia is inexcusable, since blogs and translation services have made information about jihadi propaganda more available than ever.
In my view, the only interesting thing about the release of Inspire is the fact that the PDF file is corrupt and rumoured to carry a Trojan virus… Personally I don’t see why either jihadis or intelligence services would deliberately disseminate viruses, given that a virus would hurt both friends and enemies. In any case, whoever created Inspire wanted attention, and they certainly got that – in spades.

I found this post particularly interesting because last week I attended a conference organized by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) in New York City. This isn’t necessarily in the realm of my normal academic work – other than the fact that I am interested in the way that democracies confront threats and the threat of terrorism. (But let’s face it – it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to sell me on a conference to New York City in July.)

The conference was interesting for a number of reasons – it brought together academics, policy makers and political leaders to address questions like “are we any safer after 9-11” and thinking about what has been learned. On the one hand there have been two attempted attacks on the US within six months of each other on the United States. On the other hand, one was a guy who literally could not set his pants on fire and the other a failed car bomb. Maybe we’re just safer because the quality of “terrorist” has gone down in the last couple of years?

Given the organizers, the focus of the conference was on radicalization (and they launched a study on radicalization in prisons). I did, however, expect a little more on thinking about these issues within the context of human rights/democracies/constitutions. (Maybe this was a bit of a sore spot as there were many former Bush administration officials there?) However, the issue was touched upon by the third panel of the second day titled “Counterterrorism Cooperation: Is It Working?” (Short answer: yes and no.) The panellists all agreed that human rights played an important part in how counterterrorism cooperation is engaged in. Australian Ambassador for Counterterrorism, Bill Paterson suggested that his country had worked towards helping to improve conditions inside of Indonesian Prisons to diminish the threat of radicalization there. Richard Barrett, head of the UN Al Qaidea/Taliban Monitoring Team maintained that human rights are one of the main pillars of counterterrorism.

Eric Rosand, the Senior Advisor in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the US Department of State argued that for the US this meant increasing the capacity to prosecute individuals within the United States. Interestingly, he also later added that there was a problem with some multilateral efforts. He pointed out that all UN counterterrorism work is being done in New York and Vienna and not on the ground in the countries where it matters.

Another interesting panel was on “How Terrorism Ends” – seemingly named for Audry Kurth Cronin’s 2009 book on the topic. She was at the conference and noted that while terrorism “doesn’t end” that terrorist groups do – the important question is how. She argued that there were six ways: group leadership may be ‘decapitated’ and the group withers, negotiations, success in eradication, failure to eradicate (leading to massive problems in the state or achievement of terrorist goals), mass repression and reorientation of groups. She also noted that given the variations of groups and the different ways they can be approached and confronted that the term “global terrorist insurgency” is not very useful.

I regret to say that the low-mark of the conference for me were the two plenary speakers, Lord David Trimble and Leader of the Opposition in Israel Tzipi Livni. Trimble – who helped to bring about a solution to the Northern Ireland “troubles” and won the Nobel Peace Prize – did not seem to be able to present a coherent narrative about his experiences (and went on so long that there was not time for questions). The main points I took from his talk was that peace in Northern Ireland was possible because of state power – but state power also gave them room to participate in a political process. While the UK government could have left the IRA to just eventually disappear and dissolve into its own infighting, an approach which accommodated them, according to Trimble, helped to diffuse the underlying problems causing terrorism. In addition the process helped to create political structures to address grievances and problems.

Livni, gave a speech which basically amounted to a justification of Israeli policies rather than any kind of serious engagement with the issue – or how democracies can confront the threat of radical violence. Actually, she talked about the way that Hamas ‘uses’ democracy to gain power. She literally stated that everyone “must choose a side… you are either for us or against us” – without any sense of irony or the fact that she was paraphrasing George Bush. I have a lot of sympathy with Livini (and blogged about it in one of my first posts for this site here). But there was nothing new or interesting in her talk – in fact it was rather depressing way to end the conference. (But then maybe that was the point – none of this is going away.)

So terrorism wasn’t solved but I got a really nice dinner out of it. I like to think that means “we’re” winning.

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Turning up the heat on Iran

In case you’re like most American academics and are on vacation, you may have missed the fact that America is seriously turning up the heat on Iran.

The US has begun squeezing Iran’s fuel imports and access to financial markets in response to Iran’s refusal to halt its alleged nuclear enrichment activities. A controversial new US law has been signed by President Obama which will sanction any company (regardless of national origin) that exports refined petroleum products or provides financing to Iran.

Corporations and financial firms have already begun to comply with the new US law which goes well beyond the mandate of the United Nations sanctions regime:

First, reports emerged yesterday that BP was refusing to refuel Iranian passenger airplanes in the UAE (and later Germany and Britain). BP was under no obligations to refuse service to Iran Air under the laws or policies of the Emirates or Great Britain. It appears that BP was acting on its own to curry favor with the US government.

Second, the EU announced today that some planes from Iran Air are banned from European airspace, although the EU indicated that this ban was unrelated to UN sanctions. The timing of the announcement however appears suspicious in the eyes of Iranians.

Third, for the last few weeks a large number of companies have begun cutting back on sales of gasoline to Iran.

Fourth, the central bank of the UAE has frozen the assets of entities blacklisted by the UN for assisting Iran’s nuclear program.

America’s application of extraterritorial laws on foreign firms conducting business with a foreign power, is a rather bold effort (although hardly unprecedented, particularly in the area of international finance) to force global corporations to choose sides. The test of this approach will come when the US actually has to retaliate against a major corporation from a major power that refuses to play ball even after being given a few years to unwind the corporation’s exposure to Iran. Given Iran’s status in global politics, it is unlikely that European powers will resist this blatant violation of their sovereignty by the US; however, China may actively resist or at least lodge a complaint against the US at the World Trade Organization. China has already stated publicly that the US has overstepped UN sanctions. Whether the US would actually be willing to sanction a Chinese firm that does business with Iran is unclear since the US needs China’s continuing support for the sanctions regime and any future actions at the UN Security Council. (In the past, the US did sanction 46 Chinese firms under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.)

Iranian Reactions

Iran has mainly reacted to these developments defensively. Ayatollah Khameni urged Iranian citizens to conserve on electricity and imported goods. The head of the Iran-UAE Chamber of Commerce has stated that Iran will cut back trade ties with the UAE in response to its actions. Iran’s President has stated his country will defend its interests if Iranian ships are inspected in accordance with the latest round of UN sanctions.

Israel also confirmed this week that Iran moved radar equipment to Syria (although the movement may have occurred in mid-2009) in an effort to gain early warning if Israel launches a preventive attack on Iran. However, both Iran and Syria have denied the Israeli reports. Israel also accuses Iran and Syria of transferring short range and anti-aircraft missiles to the armed wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Not So Grim?

So the situation looks tense, but I don’t think things are actually as grim as they appear.

If the past is a reliable guide, it is highly unlikely that these new US laws and the latest round of UN sanctions will produce policy changes in Iran or trigger a popular uprising leading to regime change. Iran is unlikely to be destabilized in this manner, although its citizens will undoubtedly suffer econmically. My hunch is that American diplomats realize this and that the real aim of the US strategy is to pinch Iran enough to bring it back to the negotiating table and to persuade Israel not to attempt a preventive attack while non-military options are being explored. Iran will probably return to negotiations as this buys time for their policy objective, which is likely to be the attainment of “nuclear latency” rather than actually building or testing a nuclear device. I am also skeptical that Israel would launch a preventive strike at this time given its disastrous diplomacy over the last year and its military’s poor performance in the 2006 War. Finally, the Iran issue is not very useful for the Obama administration. Managing another war would be a disaster for the current government both politically and economically. So a prolonged process of negotiation that regulates (as opposed to resolving) the tensions between Israel and Iran is probably the ideal solution for the US, at least until the President and his party are politically less vulnerable.

Of course, this is all just my hunch and I’d love to know what others think about these developments…

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Meanwhile, in the West Bank


I’m traveling in Israel this week on an academic study tour with a mix of 15 political scientists, economists, and historians. It’s a grueling schedule – 14 to 16 hours of sessions per day – meeting with Israelis, Israeli –Arabs, and Palestinians. I finally have a short break in the schedule so this is the first of several posts.

I’ll post some thoughts on Gaza later, but I’ll start with the West Bank. On Tuesday, we went to Ramallah and met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to talk about state building in the West Bank. Fayyad introduced his two-year plan for Palestinian statehood last August. The strategy has two main efforts: first, he moved to consolidate and gain control of the Palestinian security forces; and second, he has rolled-out a concerted effort to build governing institutions.

On the security side, things seem to be relatively stable. The PA has been able to consolidate the dozen or so security services into three – Fayyad noted/joked that he’s had to campaign hard to convince Palestinians that security pluralism isn’t a particularly healthy form of democratic pluralism.

On the statebuilding side, Fayyad began the plan by promoting1,000 small infrastructure projects. He said that the PA has turned away from large-scale projects because they are too susceptible to corruption and control by patronage systems. The small projects are also designed to demonstrate quick successes and show that the PA can accomplish some things. These include things like new roads and electrical services to rural communities, small business development grants, and small irrigation projects, etc…. In addition, Fayyad is moving to develop new state institutions by consolidating the legal system and introducing new administrative and regulatory structures to encourage market development. The PA Council of Ministers approved a new law on companies the day we arrived.

This strategy has generated some success. We also met with Stanley Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel who told us that the West Bank grew between 8 – 9 percent last year and there is an expectation that the new stability of the PA sector will generate a modest increase in FDI from Arab and European firms. Anecdotally, we noticed quite a bit of new construction in Ramallah and several of the other towns under PA control.

I was struck by a couple of things on the visit to Ramallah. First, the situation in the West Bank is dramatically different from what we’ve been reading about in Gaza. There were many skeptics last year when Fayyad unveiled his plan. Yet, things do seem to be moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction. New institutions are emerging and there does seem to be some increased capacity for governance. Fayyad meets regularly with Israelis – he keynoted a speech to an Israeli military conference a while back – and he told us he is now moving ahead with a second phase of another wave of small infrastructure projects.

Second, the day before we went to Ramallah, an Israeli police officer was killed and three others were wounded during an attack in the West Bank near Hebron. This was the first incident of the sort in the West Bank in about a year. Given the patterns of escalation in the past decade, I expected the incident would trigger some kind of visible response from Israel. Yet, there was barely a blip. There was no additional Israeli security presence on Rt. 60 or Rt. 70 heading northwest of Jerusalem towards Ramallah. And, Fayyad immediately condemned the attack and stated, “experience has shown that violence harms the Palestinian national cause.” While it’s not clear what will happen a year from now when Fayyad’s two-year timeline for statehood expires, both sides clearly are acting to control escalation.

We’ll see if Fayyad’s experiment will work. We’ve heard a range of views about him and his efforts from the Israelis. But, it does strike me that it’s the only part of this conflict that is moving forward.

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On the Israeli Convoy Raid – briefly

I wanted to write/post something about the Israeli-Turkish ship incident but this post here on Information Dissemination pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say: the attack was legal… but this doesn’t mean it was in any way intelligent or a clever thing to do. (Hat tip to LGM’s Robert Farley’s Twitter for pointing out the post.)

Drezner also has a post on this last point (ie: that it wasn’t really clever) at FP and brings up the the North Korean angle:

Indeed, the parallels between Israel and — gulp — North Korea are becoming pretty eerie. True, Israel’s economy is thriving and North Korea’s is not. That said, both countries are diplomatically isolated except for their ties to a great power benefactor. Both countries are pursuing autarkic policies that immiserate millions of people. The majority of the populaion in both countries seem blithely unaware of what the rest of the world thinks. Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.
He’s taking some flack in the comments section for comparing the two countries, (not that I really put a lot of stock into the FP comment section) but I think he’s correct. North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about the incident (and not only because they both invovled boats). The US’s initial response – a call for more information – was exactly the same as China’s. More importantly, can the US garner support for condemning one without condemning the other?
Regardless of the comparison, Obama now has to find a balance between two important US allies (Turkey and Israel) – right at the same time it is trying to improve relations with the Netanyahu Government after several unfortunate incidents (such as announcing new settlements at the same time Biden was in the country) AND trying to sort out new sanctions on Iran. Methinks life just got a lot harder for Susan Rice at the UN.
UPDATE: Drezner responds to criticism of his comparison to North Korea and Israel. Again, I pretty much agree….
UPDATE 2: The Israeli Foreign Ministry actually tweeted me a response to this. (Really?!!) They sent this link of a shaky video cam on a MFA International Law expert talking about the whole thing. Watch it if you want their take on the legality. (Although, as I pointed out above, I have no problems with the legality…)
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Dissing Biden

OK, so not only did the Israeli Defense Ministry announce the permit for 112 new apartment units at Beiter Illit on the eve of Biden’s visit (which the Americans were reluctantly willing to overlook), but then the government announced the approval of construction of 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.

I’m not sure which is more surprising — the stupidity or the brazenness of the Israeli actions. I realize there are bureaucratic procedures in place for new settlement permits, but announcing the expansion of settlements not once, but twice, with the American Vice President in country is pretty special even for Netanyahu’s government.

We’ll see where this goes, but Biden was probably the last guy from this administration the Israelis should have dissed. From Laura Rosen this morning:

“People who heard what Biden said [to Israeli officials behind closed doors] were stunned,” the centrist Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported. “‘This is starting to get dangerous for us,’ Biden castigated his interlocutors. ‘What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.’”

The fact that Israeli officials were “stunned” speaks volumes about how casual their disrespect for the Obama administration has become. Biden’s language — explicitly tying Israeli settlements to the security of American troops operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — may well be a break through not only with the Israeli government and public, but also with Americans as well. We’ll see.

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Foreign Policy Charade

A few weeks ago, Steve Walt relied upon his own recent experiences writing about the Israeli Lobby to generate “a list of the lessons” he learned from “grabbing the third rail” of foreign policy discourse.

Interestingly, Walt’s somewhat older list of foreign policy taboo positions did not include challenging U.S. foreign policy towards Israel (or Israeli security policy). Had Walt declined to grab the rail this time?

I was reminded of the continued primary importance of these issues recently when reading a short book review in The Nation. Charles Glass, author of the review, used a sizable portion of his piece to quote the author (Emma Williams) quoting an unnamed aid worker in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This is a potent and succinct critique of US policy:

“One day, we will look back on this charade with shame and ask ‘how in hell was this allowed to happen?’ We dress it up in shades of ‘security’–what are we talking about? That’s crap and we all know it. This is not about security. None of this is making anyone secure–the opposite is true, but we’re not going to say so, are we? This is about annexation of territory and slow ethnic cleansing. It’s making Israel less secure and a pariah nation on top of that. And we’re playing along with it, pouring billions of Euros and dollars into keeping the occupied going, keeping their heads above water while they’re boxed in like animals…. Oh, but don’t let anyone hear you say it. My God, we’re in trouble if we say it like it is. No no, we must toe the line, but why?”

I think most of us know why, though some evidence suggests that the discourse may be more open now.

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2010 Grawemeyer winner

Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), has won the 2010 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

The press release describes the award-winning ideas from Parsi’s Yale University Press book:

Improving relations between Iran and Israel is the key to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East, says the winner of the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

Trita Parsi, co-founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, earned the prize for ideas set forth in his 2007 book, “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S.” He received the award from among 54 nominations worldwide.

The rivalry between Iran and Israel is driven more by a quest for regional power rather than by conflicting beliefs, Parsi says. Instead of trying to isolate Iran from the rest of the world, the United States should rehabilitate Iran into the Middle East’s economic and political order in return for Iran making significant changes in its behavior, including ending its hostilities against Israel.

Parsi interviewed more than 130 senior Israeli, Iranian and U.S. decision-makers before writing “Treacherous Alliance,” which also won a Council on Foreign Relations award last year for most significant foreign policy book.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the story, as did the local Louisville Courier Journal. This is from the latter:

Parsi said “the thesis of the book is that what you are seeing in the Middle East right now is not an ideological battle between democracy and theocracy. You’re seeing a classic power struggle between some of the most powerful states in the region.”

Iran and Israel are using the rest of the Middle East as a stage for that competition, he said.

“When you do have a strategic competition, and a strategic rivalry, there actually is room for compromises, there is room for accommodation and there is a possibility of a win-win situation,” Parsi said. “But if you have an ideological battle, then you are left with a position in which there is only the victory of one side over the other and conflict essentially becomes inevitable.”

Paradoxically, both Israel and Iran want their competition viewed as an ideological struggle because that is each nation’s best hope for winning support from friends in the region, he said. Few of those friends would be particularly interested only in helping Israel or Iran become predominant powers in the region, Parsi said.

The antipathy between the two nations goes back only about two decades, he said.

For most of their history, Parsi said, “the relations between the Jewish people and the Iranian people tended to be very positive.”

The Louisville newspaper story points out some of the recent controversy surrounding NIAC’s alleged lobbying — and many of the smears against Parsi are reminiscent of the attacks on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for their book on the Israeli lobby.

I’m quoted in the press release:

“Most efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East focus on the clash between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Rodger Payne, a UofL political science professor who directs the award. “Parsi says the best way to stabilize the region is for the U.S. to act in a more balanced way toward Iran and Israel, which would de-escalate the geopolitical and nuclear rivalry between the two.”

The book is an interesting work of IR scholarship, with a fundamentally realist take on the relations between Israel and Iran. Interestingly, Parsi argues that Iran long acted upon realist thinking towards Iran even as its talk reflected ideology.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize. This entails soliciting external book reviews, chairing a first-round screening committee, bringing together a panel of experts to evaluate and rank a set of semi-finalists, and making sure that the information gleaned from these processes is advanced to a Final Selection Committee.

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Syria updates

Back in fall 2007 and spring 2008, former Duck blogger Peter Howard was carefully following reports about the apparent Israeli attack on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility of some sort. I just linked Peter’s last post on the event, from April 2008, and to a Duck search result that should unearth his entire series of posts. The Israel target was quite mysterious and the rumors associated with the attack far outnumbered the facts.

The German periodical Der Speigel has a lengthy story on-line dated 2 November that attempts to tell the tale.

According to Erich Follath and Holger Stark, Israel’s “Operation Orchard” destroyed a secret nuclear reactor — perhaps linked to Iran’s nuclear program. However, that allegation is not stopping the Obama administration from trying to improve relations with the Syrian regime (which is apparently reducing its ties to Iran).

The world has changed a lot since 2003 when the neocons were saying “on to Syria” in the wake of the initial successes in Iraq. Now, former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine is working for a group trying to improve US-Syrian relations!

Finally, in a new twist, Syrian President Bashar Assad is reportedly thinking about the Gadhafi pathway towards international respectability: renounce a failed WMD program.

Assad has been considering taking a sensational political step. He is believed to have suggested to contacts in Pyongyang that he is considering the disclosure of his “national” nuclear program, but without divulging any details of cooperation with his North Korean and Iranian partners. Libyan revolutionary leader Moammar Gadhafi reaped considerable benefits from the international community after a similar “confession” about his country’s nuclear program.

Peter, if you are reading, I hope you enjoy the new turns in the tale.

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The External Validity of Terrorism Studies on Israel/Palestine

The growing desire to understand both the rationality of suicide terrorism, as well as test theoretical concepts empirically has generated several interesting political economic studies of terrorism. As such, a recent paper in the NBER caught my eye for several reasons. The article, entitled “The Economic Cost of Harboring Terrorism,” adds to this body of work by focusing on an area that has yet to be explored. Very often the question of interest in these studies is, “how do terrorist attacks affect the target economy?” In this paper the authors reverse the question and ponder, “how do terrorist attacks affect the economic conditions of the area from whence the attack came?”

The question is a very good one, and the authors investigate it with a unique data set:

Our analysis overcomes these difficulties by relying on a detailed data set of suicide terror attacks and local economic conditions together with a unique empirical strategy. The available data set covers the universe of suicide Palestinian terrorists during the second Palestinian uprising, combined with quarterly data from the Palestinian Labor Force Survey on districts’ economic and demographic characteristics, and Israeli security measures (curfews and Israeli induced Palestinian fatalities).

The punchline…

…a successful attack causes an immediate increase of 5.3 percent in the unemployment rate of an average Palestinian district (relative to the average unemployment rate), and causes an increase of more than 20 percent in the likelihood that the district’s average wage falls in the quarter following an attack. Finally, a successful attack reduces the number of Palestinians working in Israel by 6.7 percent relative to its mean. Importantly, these economic effects persist for at least two quarters after the attack.

While I think this paper introduces a very important research paradigm, I have a concerns with some of the technical assumptions built into their analysis, and the overarching reliability of research focusing exclusively on terrorism in the Israel/Palestine conflict. With respect to the technical assumptions there is one line in the paper that struck me as very problematic: “Our empirical strategy exploits the inherit randomness in the success or failure of suicide terror attacks as a source of exogenous variation to investigate the effects of terrorism on the perpetrators economic conditions.”

I find it very difficult to accept the notion that success and failure is random across suicide attacks—especially within this particular conflict. There is clearly no support for a theory that selection of suicide attack sites is random; therefore, it follows that the success of an attack would also be a function of both the selected target as well as the learning process occurring by both the attackers and defenders. There is, therefore, an expectation of high autocorrelation across success for attacks happening within a relatively small geographic area. Such difficulties highlight the general problem of external validity for terrorism studies that focus solely on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

It is not surprising that researchers often default to data on terrorist attacks from this conflict. Given the relative openness of Israel’s democratic government, the media attention on Palestine, and the—unfortunate—frequency of attacks there exists are large amount of data from this conflict. As I have mentioned before, however, it is very difficult to infer causality from this data given the natural interconnectedness of the conflict dynamics. As I mentioned, there any large-N study of terrorism in this context has enormous selection problems, as terrorists learn innovate to evade the defensive tactics of the ISF, and the Israelis create new policies that may provoke and dissuade the terrorist activities. There are no other ongoing low-intensity conflicts that have issues at this level, making it difficult to draw parallels between findings from research focusing and Israel and Palestine and another other conflict.

I am curious as to others’ thoughts on this issue of external validity, and welcome your comments.

Photo: Norman G. Finkelstein

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Shadow War comes to light

Another mysterious air strike has come to light. Via the NYT, we have links to reports that in January, a “major power” conducted a significant air strike in Sudan on a convoy of trucks supposedly transporting weapons from Sudan to Hamas in Gaza. CBS reports that while Sudanese officials have accused the US of carrying out the strike, US officials hint that Israel was behind the attack. Haaretz reports that Israeli officials, while not confirming the report, certainly are denying it. According to CBS:

In the airstrike in Sudan – said to have been “in a desert area northwest of Port Sudan city, near Mount al-Sha’anoon,” according to SudanTribune.com – 39 people riding in 17 trucks were reportedly killed….

If Israeli airplanes carried out the attack in Sudan, it would suggest that there is a shadow war against Hamas and its weapons sources that is wider than the Israeli or U.S. government has revealed.

Who could have undertaken such an attack? Its a pretty limited group consisting of mainly the US and Israel and perhaps Egypt, given the proximity to the Egyptian border. Conceding that Egypt is a stretch at best, the likely suspects include the US and Israel. Israel’s F-15I, a long range ground attack aircraft, is designed for just such missions–long range precision attack. The US has bases in Djibouti as well as carrier-based aircraft that could launch any number of platforms. The scope of the attack (17 trucks) suggest a multiple-plane strike package, probably ruling out attack by US drones.

The most significant element in this strike is the actionable intelligence that produced it. The attacking power must know that this particular convoy is carrying arms, and know where the convoy is and where its heading. That type of intelligence suggests either a very robust HUMINT capability on the ground in Sudan, or, more likely, a robust satellite surveillance capability that could identify the convoy and follow it, pinpointing its exact location at the time of the strike.

The wider implications of this strike could be significant. It shows the depth and difficulty of the Israeli – Hamas conflict. Hamas has a robust global supply network and cooperative governments willing to allow such a network to exist. It also shows the depth of involvement by Sudan and Iran in the issue. It also is a clear signal from Israel to Iran–we are monitoring your actions and have the ability to strike your activities. The F-15I’s range includes Port Sudan, and thus a good chunk of Iran as well.

Developing….

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Israeli threat inflation?

Over the weekend, the AP ran a story based on high-level Israeli sources suggesting that Iran’s nuclear program has “crossed the threshold,” which implied that the program is now militarized:

Iran is now capable of producing atomic weapons, Israel’s top military intelligence officer said Sunday, sounding the highest-level warning that Israel’s archenemy has achieved independent nuclear capability.

At a Cabinet meeting, the chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, did not say Iran already has an atomic bomb, participants said. However, he said, Iran has “crossed the threshold” and has the expertise and materials needed for one.

Meanwhile, American intelligence sources disagree and reported their dissent to a US Senate committee this week. The Post today quoted Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair:

“The overall situation — and the intelligence community agrees on this — [is] that Iran has not decided to press forward . . . to have a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile,” Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our current estimate is that the minimum time at which Iran could technically produce the amount of highly enriched uranium for a single weapon is 2010 to 2015.”

Readers may remember that I pointed out similar apparently contradictory statements about Iran’s nuclear material recently delivered on weekend TV progams by high-level US officials just last week.

What’s going on?

Iran has demonstrated that it can enrich uranium. So far, none of the uranium has been enriched to weapons-grade, but the technological skill required isn’t all that substantial. This is a huge flaw in the Nonproliferation Treaty and I’ve previously discussed the much-needed Additional Protocol to the NPT, which would improve verification.

Some experts, like Harvard’s Graham Allison, call for an end to nuclear enrichment. The big mistakes were made when Ike promoted Atoms for Peace and the NPT reflected his guarantee allowing non-nuclear states to pursue a wide range of “peaceful” technologies.

As for the moment, Blair notes that the Israelis are engaged in classic worst-case planning:

“The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said.

Israel wiped out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 and destroyed something mysterious in Syria in 2007.

Israel has often hinted that it might attack Iran, so this story isn’t over by any means — even if the Obama administration worries more about Pakistan.

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Rally from war to election?

The rally effect, where public opinion surges in favor of an incumbent government in the face of a foreign policy crisis or military action, is well documented in studies of US foreign policy. Similarly, diversionary theories of war posit that leaders will engage in military adventurism to distract a public from economic troubles or electoral difficulties.

Israel goes to the polls tomorrow. The recent Gaza war is front and center in the campaign. Barak and labor were poised to lose seats, and the conventional wisdom was that a good showing in Gaza could help Barak, Defense Minister, and bolster Labor’s vote share. Same with Livni and Kadima, the current ruling party. And yet, the initial benefactor seemed to be Likud and Netanyahu–as a growing sector of Israeli public opinion seems to think that perhaps the war did not go far enough.

And yet, the most recent reports have seen the right wing (yet secular) party of Lieberman, Israel is our Home, as the real story, gaining seats at the expense of Likud and others. Governing Kadima and Labor don’t seem to be making a significant showing, though the final results tomorrow will tell the full story.

This was not the first time that Israel has launched a military operation right before an election. In 1996, Shimon Peres launched an attack into Lebanon near the election, and subsequently lost to Netanyahu.

Does any of this suggest that these theories might not apply?

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Condoleezation

Almost live Panel Blogging:

I’m sitting (or at least was, when I started this post) in a rather interesting panel that’s running at AU right now: The Obama Administration and the Palestinian / Israeli Conflict. It’s a pretty intense, thoughtful, and insightful discussion, featuring Aaron Miller, Yoram Peri, Amjad Atallah, and moderated by our own Boaz Atzili. On the schedule but not able to make it today was Joshua Muravchick.

Aaron Miller has quite a lot on his mind and is very talkative and is quite passionate about his points. Its clear that he has a lot that he wants to say—not just here, but in his recent writings, his book, and his other recent commentary. Its the I worked at this for 24 years and got nowhere because you crazy people can’t get over your inane mythology and appreciate the world as it is, not how you want it to be (he didn’t actually say the crazy people part, but he did drop the realism line at one point in his remarks).

Two-plus points, reacting to what I heard.

1. Both Atallah and Miller prefaced their remarks: “Speaking as an American…” Aside from the obvious use of this rhetorical device to preface remarks about the status of the negotiations, the frame also allows them to raise a very critical issue that has been absent from the recent dialogue of US involvement in the Middle East Peace Process. Both noted that the US has very vital National Interests at stake in resolving this conflict. The Obama administration has some major items on its plate: withdraw from Iraq, deal with Iran, the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan, and terrorist networks who might seek to attack the US directly. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is connect to all of these and as it degrades, it further complicates the US’s ability to resolve its most vital interests in the region. Resolving the Israeli – Palestinian issue, beyond any Israeli or Palestinian interests, beyond any alliance with Israel, is important to the US achieving key goals on its own. Atallah recalled the way the US dealt with Bosnia—for a while, it was a horrible problem but one where the deep, ancient hatred and longstanding conflict rendered it impossible for the US to do anything. Then, at a certain point, the Clinton Administration decided that resolving the conflict was in the US interest, and they got involved and pushed a resolution (not that the Balkans is the Middle East, his point being that when the US decides its in its interest to act, it can and will take action).

The new “reality”* of the situation might now be an American National Interest in ending the conflict—not solving it to the liking of any one side, but ending it so that it is no longer a problem to the US advancing its other key interests in the region. At this point, the US decides what it needs, and what its worth, in terms of willingness to invest / pay, to get these needs, and makes it happen. Now this is not to capitulate to the inane Walt argument that Israel is somehow dragging down the US in the region (interestingly, Miller referenced the Walt / Mearshiemer book, trashed it, and then called for a more realistic understanding of the US – Israeli relationship, both by the general public and by American Jews that moves beyond some sort of mythology of fear.)

The difference here is that the subtle change of role for the US that they suggest—no longer protector of any one side, no longer “honest broker” but rather concerned great power able to see a workable solution that is good for the US and apply appropriate pressure to both sides to get there.

2. Its very interesting to hear the different analyses of what the barriers are to peace. On the one hand, Miller says the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is large, while Atallah and Peri say that these gaps are less substantive and more process-oriented. The one thing that is clear from this (and, honestly, any discussion you ever listen to by anyone with any familiarity with the issue) is that the basic issues are still the same basic issues, the general terms of an agreement have a straight genealogy from the Roadmap to the Mitchell Plan, to Camp David, to Oslo, to Madrid, to Camp David. Its essentially the same plan, the same issues. So where’s the problem? Miller says that nothing will happen until there is a unified Palestinian political order, one organization controlling violence over its territory. Now, that’s a state (cue Weber), and as Atallah points out, they aren’t a state yet. Peri says the problem is a lack of trust and leadership on both sides. Miller also faults poor leadership. Peri notes the interesting dynamic in Israeli public opinion: he references surveys that show the Israeli public as more supportive of trading land for peace and closing settlements, but also shifting to the right politically, with Likud expected to win the upcoming elections. No trust in the leadership to actually deliver these long term goals.

Other interesting tidbits:

Atzili noted a new word making its way around Israeli slang: Condoleezation, to work long and hard and accomplish nothing.

There was general consensus that the idea that the Bush Administration was in any way good for this region or this conflict, or any of the parties, is mythology. To say you support a 2 state solution and then do nothing about it is no help to the Palestinians. To say you support Israel and then disengage from the peace process is no help to the Israelis. No one had much nice to say about the Bush Administration. Muravchik might have altered that dynamic, but he was apparently sick or something.

There was also general consensus that a peace deal with Syria was perhaps more likely than anything else. Its doable, its easy—no existential issues, it has support from the Israeli military (Peri reported), and it would actually help a bit with the other tracks.

Atallah noted that Arab leaders now feel they can engage the US again. The Bush Administration, with Iraq, Abu Gharib, Gitmo, and the like, was impossible to talk to. Obama offers a fresh chance. This holds out the promise that the Obama administration could engage and bring about the regional support necessary for an Israeli – Palestinian process.

Overall, a very interesting panel. There was audio and video taken, I’m told there might be a podcast, and if there is, I’ll try to link to it.

*MEPP commentators always like to talk about “realities” the changing realities, the new realities, the realities on the ground. Sorta makes you wonder how “real” they are, and if they are so real, how they keep changing all the time.

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How much for an entire world?

It seems to me that, in the lands of Israel and Palestine, the going rate is far too cheap for such a dear commodity.

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War and punishment

Ethics and pragmatism sometimes align in matters of war and peace, and other times they work at cross purposes. Two recent examples illustrate this rather banal point:

1. Brian Ulrich calls attention to what might be charitably described as a misguided Israeli tactic for dealing with Hamas in the West Bank:

It’s long been said that Hamas is popular because of its social services. Israel’s defense establishment is now on the case:

“Israeli military officials have identified Hamas’s civilian infrastructure in the West Bank as a major source of the Islamic group’s popularity, and have begun raiding and shutting down these institutions in cities like Hebron, Nablus and Qalqilyah.

“Last week, troops focused their efforts in Nablus, raiding the city hall and confiscating computers. They also stormed into a shopping mall and posted closure notices on the shop windows. A girls’ school and a medical centre were shut down in the city, and a charitable association had its computers impounded and documents seized.

And:

In recent months, the army has also closed down an orphanage, a bakery and other institutions in Hebron, which Israel believes are associated with Hamas. In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel and the Islamic group are observing a truce, but this does not pertain to the West Bank where the Israeli military operates freely.”

Are they serious? Having Israel attack Hamas orphanages and medical centers is supposed to make Palestinians turn against Hamas?

Robert Farley lodges an additional objection:

The motivating concept behind strategic bombing in World War II was that enemy morale would be crushed by the destruction of the infrastructure of civilian life; the Japanese, it was thought, would stop supporting their government when the United States Army Air Force destroyed the ability of that government to supply civilian services. Essentially, the point is to make the people blame their own government for their hardships.”

Rob contines

The Israelis aren’t actually blowing anything up, but the concept seems to be the same — close an orphanage, and hope that the Palestinians blame Hamas instead of Israel. Good luck with that…

I think Rob misses the point. The Israeli campaign isn’t designed to make the Palestinians blame Hamas for a loss of social services, but to deny Hamas the ability to provide social services. Now Rob is right that a major problem with the strategy is that it risks creating more of a rally-around Hamas effect; another is that it further undermines Fatah.

Writing in the daily Haaretz newspaper this week, columnist Gideon Levy calls the move against Hamas-related institutions “ludicrous.” Residents of the West Bank, he concludes, “cannot be simultaneously imprisoned, prohibited from earning a living and offered no social welfare assistance while we strike at those who are trying to do so, whatever their motives. If Israel wants to fight the charitable associations, it must at least offer alternative services. On whose back are we fighting terror? Widows? Orphans? It’s shameful.”

By moving against Hamas institutions, Israel runs the risk of increasing the popularity of the Islamic movement and, at the same time, undermining that of Abbas and his Fatah party, who are perceived, correctly or not, as the intended beneficiaries — even if unwitting and unwilling ones — of this policy.

What’s more, Hamas’s popularity does not derive only from its network of schools and charities, but is also very much a direct function of the deep disillusionment among the Palestinian people with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and its inability to deliver on its key promises, the central one being an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some in Israel argue that the best way for Israel to block Hamas and bolster Abbas would be to halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, ease travel restrictions there and, most importantly, ensure there is progress in negotiations with the Palestinian leader.

To be blunt, the Israelis need to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the peace process–and those advocating peace–will bring material improvement to their lives. Israeli counter-terrorism strategy, however, often does just the opposite.

The frustrating thing is how little anyone interested in peace has learned since the breakdown of Oslo, when the Israeli far right Palestinian extremists de facto conspired to torpedo the peace process. They did so not only by polarizing the environment, but by forcing policies that destroyed the hope of material benefit from the peace process.

So this is a case where moral action–responding to the plight of the Palestinian people–is also pragmatic action.

2. The opposite, unfortunately, is true in Sudan. Recall that the ICC has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide. China, an increasingly close ally of Sudan, is part of an effort to suspend the ICC indictment.

But the indictment should be suspended, as it complicates already struggling attempts to deal with the situation in Darfur. Proceeding with the indictment backs Bashir into a corner, reduces whatever incentive he has to sign onto any future agreement, and renders such negotiations even more difficult. The African Union is basically right that:

“hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan” could be jeopardised.

Foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU’s Peace and Security Council are expected to meet in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where the AU is based, next week.

The charges against President Bashir put African countries in an acutely difficult position, says the BBC’s Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.

They supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are also the countries most likely to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant, she says.

It also threatens to undermine the ICC itself, as it can’t do much of anything to enforce its writ.

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That’s just sick, or “we haven’t had a good Israel-Palestine flamewar here yet… let’s hope I don’t start one”

I don’t post a great deal on Israel-Palestine issues. I basically want to see a peace deal that involves an equitable variant of the two-state solution and that empowers moderates on both sides. I don’t have much sympathy for those who want to paint the conflict in black-and-white terms, and I get sick of the way that advocates of one side or the other spotlight the various infractions of their opponents.

But f*ck it, this is just sick:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently visiting Malta, welcomed the prisoner exchange and sent his greetings to Kuntar upon his release from Israeli prison.

Abbas’s Fatah party organized a rally in Ramallah to celebrate the release of Kuntar and the return of the remains of Mughrabi. “This is an historic victory over Israeli arrogance,” said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official and advisor to Abbas.

He described Kuntar as a “big struggler” and Mughrabi as a “martyr who led one of the greatest freedom fighters’ operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

He added that on this “important” day, Fatah “salutes Hizbullah and its leaders and fighters.”

Fahmi Za’arir, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said his party was proud of all those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Palestinian “revolution and people.” He
described the attack carried out by Mughrabi and Kuntar as heroic and legendary.

Kuntar was among those given a hero’s welcome by the Lebanese state.

To understand what’s wrong with this picture, read this and this–but only the latter if you can deal with the sadistic murder of a preschooler.

The Israeli government should never have agreed to this swap. No matter what the Jewish religion holds about the remains of its adherents, they’ve taken another step towards empowering Hezbollah and demonstrating that violence is the best way to extract concessions from them.

And yes, both sides have bloody hands concerning children. That’s not the point.

UPDATE: better posts, better commentary available at the usual suspects’.

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